Have money, will migrate

Updated: 2013-03-21 15:10

By Lv Chang and Zhang Chunyan (China Daily)

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Have money, will migrate

Some unlucky immigration investors are finding out that there is no such thing as a free lunch. [Photo / China Daily] 

Julia Zhu, 42, an immigration consultant for a UK based-agency, who has lived in Edinburgh for eight years, says children's education is what drives most of her clients to migrate.

"People have other priorities in the UK, like they enjoy going on holidays two or three times a year," says Zhu, who goes back to China to speak with potential clients every year. "In China, parents give up holidays for children's education."

At the same time, investment immigration policies in countries have become more favorable to attract Chinese investors.

That many of the foreign programs require a substantial investment by applicants, either in real estate or businesses, is seen as a sign that the US and Europe need the injection of capital in enduring instability caused by the global economic crisis.

And to oblige, China's rich have recently been on shopping sprees in both regions, snapping up homes, considered the first step to gaining a passport.

Cyprus introduced a new immigration policy at the end of 2011, allowing a person who buys a house in Cyprus of a certain value to apply immediately for a residence permit.

The recently renewed US program, EB-5, which can grant up to 10,000 visas annually, requires $1 million in businesses that create at least 10 jobs in the US or an investment of $500,000 in a rural or high-unemployment areas.

Yvonne Liu, 22, who wants to stay in the US after her college studies, fits the profile. Her mother, Lily Zhang, a 46-year-old Chinese businesswoman, can make that happen.

Three years ago, Zhang flew to the US to look for investment opportunities. Her plan was to move some of her international trade business from Xiamen in China's southern Fujian province to southern California.

"It will create at least 700 jobs for locals," Zhang says. With California's unemployment rate above 12 percent, she found it an ideal time to invest in an American dream for her daughter.

More than a third of the $70 million investment can be raised through a quota of 50 EB-5 investor visas for other Chinese who can pay a minimum of $500,000 for permanent residence.

Last year, the investment immigration of Zhang Lan, head of a famous restaurant chain, South Beauty, created controversy in China.

Many accused Zhang, also a former member of the Beijing Chaoyang District Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, of being unpatriotic. But Zhang was quoted on the state television network as saying it had nothing to do with the patriotism. It was simply easier for the company to go public overseas if she held foreign citizenship, she claimed.

Her sentiments are common among China's wealthy elite. Many cited environmental and social concerns, such as pollution, corruption and distrust among people, as well as a rigid investment environment, for motivating this trend.

"Public opinions are always associated with confidence about China's future or the rich escaping from something illegal they have done," wrote Huang Song, secretary-general of the Finance Industry and Development Research Center of Peking University, in a recent commentary for Caixin.com, the website of one of the largest media groups in China.

"But there is another very important reason which is neglected - that is the government's restriction and barrier to overseas financing and investment.

"China's financial system essentially only supports state-owned enterprises and large firms. For private companies and small and medium-sized enterprises, it is difficult to get loans, and even more difficult to go public or issue bonds."